Holiday Gift Guide 2010: Top digital SLR cameras

Summary:With 16 new dSLRs announced so far this year, there's a vast array to choose from this holiday season. To help you narrow down the options, here's a list of my five favorite dSLRs of the moment.

While the popularity of compact, mirror-less interchangeable lens cameras -- such as the Sony NEX series, Olympus PEN series, and Panasonic G series --  may have made a dent in the digital SLR market this year, we've still seen at least 16 new dSLRs announced so far (11 of those in August and September alone).

Sony accounted for a whopping seven of the 2010 models (all of which were in the sub-$1,000 range) but we also saw some major announcements from Canon and Nikon in the midrange, with key updates to some favorite models. All of this means there's a vast array of dSLRs to choose from this holiday season.

To help you narrow down the options, here's a list of my five favorite dSLRs of the moment:

Pentax K-x Though it's starting to get a little long in the tooth in dSLR years (which means it's about a year old), it's still hard to find a better deal than the Pentax K-x.

It holds its own against the slightly more-expensive Nikon D3100 and hangs onto its title as the lowest-priced dSLR to offer HD video recording (720p HD video recording mode at 24fps), albeit by the skin of its teeth now that the Sony Alpha SLT-A33 is on the scene with even higher resolution video at the same list price. But with street prices as low as $470 (with an 18-55mm lens),

The K-x bests most similarly priced cameras with its 11-point autofocus system, 4.7 fps continuous shooting speed, and impressive sensitivity range (ISO 100 to 12,800 expanded). Plus, its famous candy-color body options will help it stand out under the tree.

[See a photo gallery of the Pentax K-x and a gallery of sample photos shot with the K-x.]

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Canon EOS Rebel T2i If you can spend a bit more on an entry-level shooter, the Canon EOS Rebel T2i is the sub-$1,000 dSLR to buy.

It's very well specified for the price, borrowing some high-end features from the Canon EOS 7D (also on this list below) such as the ability to shoot 1080p video at 30-, 25-, and 24fps. And like its big brother, the T2i gives you full autofocus and manual controls while shooting video and uses the same 63-zone metering system.

You'd be hard pressed to find a lower priced camera with a better features set or specifications, and most reviewers agree that the T2i delivers the best image and video quality in a dSLR for under $1,000 right now.

[See a photo gallery of the Canon EOS Rebel T2i and a gallery of sample photos shot with the T2i.]

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Canon EOS 60D When Canon replaced its venerable EOS 50D with the Canon EOS 60D, it made a significant shift in features, specs and design, repositioning Canon's key midrange offering as more of a high-end consumer dSLR than a low-end pro's camera.

It's a welcome change, making the camera more accessible to folks ready to upgrade from entry-level Rebels and the like. The most obvious updates are the 60D’s lighter-weight more compact body design, the new 3-inch articulated LCD, and the 1080p HD video recording capability (at 30-, 25-, and 24fps). It also catches up with the T2i and EOS 7D's 18 megapixel resolution, ISO 100-6,400 (12,800 expanded) sensitivity range, and improved metering system, though its improved autofocus system is not quite up to par with the 7D’s.

The 60D adds some higher-end features borrowed from the 7D, such as a built-in wireless flash control, but also includes some more consumer-oriented features like the Creative Image Filters borrowed from the PowerShot point-and-shoot line, as well as in-camera reduced resolution image copies and raw image processing.

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Nikon D7000 Announced just a month after the EOS 60D, the Nikon D7000 is not yet shipping as of this writing, but is available for pre-order and should hit the streets any day now.

A direct competitor to the 60D, the D7000 is a great upgrade for folks who are ready to move up from Nikon's well-loved D90. With a 16.2 megapixel DX-format sensor, the D7000 offers an ISO range of 100 to 6400, expandable to 25,600, as well as fast, 6fps continuous shooting speed. Metering and autofocus systems have also been updated, with the latter using 39 points (9 cross-type).

The camera records 1,920×1,080 HD video at only 24 fps, but it does offer manual exposure control and continuous autofocus while in movie mode. Although some will prefer the 60D's articulating LCD, the D7000’s optical viewfinder outshines the 60D’s with 100 percent coverage and 0.94x magnification (vs. the 60D’s 96 percent coverage and 0.95x magnification).

And with a compact but solid body design, the camera is splashproof and dustproof like Nikon’s higher-end D300s and it includes two memory card slots (both SD/SDHC/SDXC in this case) like Nikon's other higher-end dSLRs.

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Canon EOS 7D Last, but not least, I'm still picking the Canon EOS 7D for a high-end semi-pro option. In this price range (body-only list of $1,700) you are either unusually generous, or your gift recipient is making at least some income through photography (and shooting you kickbacks?).

Either way, the 7D is still the semi-pro camera to beat. None of the similarly priced cameras that have come out since I included it in last year's Holiday Gift Guide have given it much of a run for the money, and it still stands out for superior image quality across the sensitivity spectrum and great performance, with a zippy 8 fps continuous shooting speed (particularly impressive given its 18-megapixel resolution).

In many ways, the 7D outspecs its one-year-older big brother, the EOS 5D Mark II -- for example, its 19-point autofocus system, a big and bright viewfinder with 100-percent coverage and 1.0x magnification, and 63-zone metering (not to mention the much faster continuous shooting mode).

Add in the 7D’s top-notch video capabilities (1,920×1,080 HD video at a full 30 fps and full manual control), and the 7D still holds the semi-pro crown.

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Topics: Hardware

About

Janice Chen is an editorial consultant and has been covering technology for over two decades. Serving as editor in chief at CNET and Computer Shopper magazine for many years, she oversaw product coverage for the CNET and ZDNet websites. She has appeared on most of the major morning TV news programs and was featured weekly on CNN Headline... Full Bio

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